Sunday, April 13, 2008


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

All for the love of dian mian hu, kompia and mangee

I had just finished my cheng beng duty and looked at the crumbled piece of paper with my to-do list:-

-pay visit to my auntie (tuakor), per instruction of Helen Ting-Teo.

-buy as many kompia and mangee (only from chop sing kee's and nobody else's) as my poor limps can carry, per instruction of my wife.

-statutory pilgrimage to angkow's kampua stall.

-any other indigenous food worth sampling.

-visit some childhood haunts

-shoot the famous tapau-ed live chicken at the central wet market as evidence to complain to the SPCA

I still had got half an hours to kill before I board my express boat to kuching. The kompia and mangee were all tapau-ed in two large plastic bags (the type damned by ecologists everywhere) already, and I was wandering aimlessly in the street behind Blacksmith Road.

Suddenly I came across a small lane between two blocks of shophouses, and a familiar sight greeted me: the "dian miang hu" shop! Arguably the oldest eatery in town (try looking for an kopitiam older than 40 yrs in Sibu) and the real McCoy of this native cuisine of Sibu.

Slowly I approached the shop not confident whether I know how to order a bowl or not after all these years. It must have been, I dont know, 20 years (?) since I last set foot into this shop, but somehow, I was drawn to its dark and dank interior set amidst foul-smelling longkau. Yes, it stank, but I sat down anyway and the waiter looked at me for my order, I murmured "dia miang hu" inaudibly and point my index finger at the ceiling (indicating one bowl). She read my lips, message understood.

The place was not very full so I secretly fished out my camera and pretended to be fiddling the dials, while in fact I was pointing it at the electric-power rice-flour grindstone whirring just 5 feet away from me. I took aim and snapped a shot. Not contented with just a still shot, I switched it to video mode and pan the camera right across the shop, the whirring grindstone, the kitchen, the helpers cutting away at the table, the other customers and the boss, yes, the same tall thin guy that you and I knew since our puberty, a bit older but still sprightly in his movement.

Finally my bowl of dianmianhu came. Picking up the broad short china spoon, I scooped up the hot soup and sipped......ahhhh! Still the same great taste! Not wanting to let this moment go unrecorded, I quickly took a shot of my bowl before I continue eating. There were the fishballs, though not springy enough, the black fungus and the tiger lily, my fave. The let-down? No cut strips of cuttlefish (what a pity).

Finally I finished up my last spoonful. Standing up burping and digging into my pocket, I looked at the waiter. "Dua ringgit setengah" understandingly she responsed, I paid and walked out into the sunshine again.

Ooops! Express boat sailing in 15 minutes time! With my arthritis stricken arms flailing with big plastic, transparent bags (the size of what the laundrywomen carry) of kompia and mangee and a backpack on my back, and stomach full of sloshing dianmianhu, my mental GPS computed the straightest route to the wharf while my calf muscles and archilles tendons strained to complete their task of making it in time for the boarding. Just made it!

For a 55-year-old sprinting 500 metres across horrendous traffic and laden with 20 kilograms of cargo in 14 minutes is quite an achievement, no? But when I stepped on the boat's ladder, the juragan pushed his palm just two inches from my nose:

"No more selling kueh! we're sailing now"

"B-b-but, I'm..."

"I know, you're selling kompia..."

"I'M A PASSENGER!" I almost screamed, at the same time stopping a multitude of other passenger scrambling towards me thinking of buying kompia and mangee from me.

"Oh, sorry.........." Still trying to catch my breath, I could see some passengers looking longingly at my two plastic bags swaying clumsily as I clambered up the ladder.